Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Libya's Qaddafi turns over Islamic militant to Algeria

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

One of the wealthiest and most powerful armed Islamists in north Africa, Amar Saifi, was behind bars on Monday in his home country of Algeria following the intervention of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.

Saifi was the No. 2 in Algeria's main violent Islamist organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and responsible for the kidnapping of 32 foreign tourists in the Sahara desert last year. His group had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and he ran, in effect, a private army that roamed across the desert frontiers of several north African states.

Qaddafi received praise from Washington for handing over Saifi to the Algerian government.

"This continues to show Libya's reintegration into world society and coming down on the side of law and order and the war on terrorism," a US military official told Reuters at the weekend.

Saifi was reported to have been captured several months ago by a rebel, non-Islamist group from Chad, and it was unclear how he turned up in Libya last week. Press reports around the region have speculated either that Qaddafi threatened the Chad group with air attacks, or that he paid it for Saifi.

Last year Saifi was reported to have extracted 5 million euros (US$6.4 million) from the German government in return for the release of 32 tourists kidnapped while on adventure holidays in the Algerian Sahara. A German woman died of heatstroke in captivity and German authorities had put out an international search warrant for Saifi.

The Algerian daily El Watan reported at the weekend that Saifi, a former Algerian paratrooper who is half-French, had used the money to recruit fighters and buy weapons.

Saifi had reportedly arranged marriages with the daughters of tribal leaders in northern Mali to ensure support there. He was a main target for US special forces who had been training local soldiers in Chad, Mali and other countries in anti-terrorist tactics amid fears that al-Qaeda style groups would find refuge in the region's barren, difficult terrain.

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